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Japanese History

Why is Kyōbashi called Kyōbashi?

Today’s place name is Kyobashi. It means “bridge to the capital.” Was that Edo or Kyoto? More importantly, this bridge is a testament to Japanese engineering. It’s final incarnation was completed one year before the Great Kanto Earthquake leveled Tokyo in 1923 but the bridge survived. It also survived WWII. But it didn’t survive modern progress in Tokyo…. Let’s learn more!

京橋
Kyōbashi

(capital bridge, more at “bridge to Kyōto”)

The area surrounding Kyobashi Station is in yellow. Note the other major areas, Ginza, Hatchobori, Nihonbashi, and Takaracho. Also note Tokyo Station.

What does Kyōbashi mean?

OK, I still haven’t written about the 五街道 Go-kaidō the 5 Highways or Nihonbashi yet, so bear with me.
Oh… I haven’t written about the capital of Japan yet, so bear with me.
Dammit! I haven’t written about 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai (mandatory service to the shōgun) yet! I’m sorry.
Please, please, please, bear with me.

[EDIT 10/2020: I’ve since written about both of those,
so check the Further Reading links down below!]

I promise to write the rest of the entrees that are necessary soon. After I commit seppuku.

In the Edo Period, there were 5 main roads that connected the domains with the capital in Edo. When Ieyasu began developing Edo as his new capital, he had to connect the city to the rest of Japan. At first, the most important city to connect with Edo was Kyōto because the 朝廷 chōtei Imperial Court was there.

Long story short, the road that connected Tōkyō and Kyōto was called the Tōkaidō. The Tōkaidō began at Nihonbashi (The Bridge to Japan). You’d start in the commercial district and then cross a bridge and head out of the city. As more roads were built to facilitate 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance duty and other travel needs they all had their starting point/termination at Nihonbashi. Edo, being a castle town, was arranged in small neighborhoods and deliberately without a grid (for protection). In the early days of the shōganate, getting out of the city might prove difficult or at least a waste of time if you got lost. So once you crossed Nihonbashi, you passed through 江戸町 Edo no machi, a merchant district, headed south on a road towards 京橋 Kyōbashi.  Once you passed this bridge, you knew you were pointed in the right direction.

Kyobashi in the Edo Period. Sometimes I can’t believe that such a beautiful view is what Tokyo is today. The shogun’s capital was without a doubt, one of the finest cities in the world.

Wait a minute.
You said 京橋 means “Capital Bridge.”
So, why is this bridge taking us out of the capital?

京都 Kyōto means “The Capital, biaaatch.” And in the old days the city was generally just referred to as 京 Kyō “the capital.” In reality, the capital was officially wherever the emperor lived – an argument can still be made for this naming convention even today.

Of course, in the Edo Period, the shōgun lived in Tōkyō. It was the de facto capital and by the middle of the Edo Period there was hardly any pretense in calling Kyōto the capital. But that was the name of the city. So Kyōbashi actually had two nuances. If you were leaving, it was the bridge to imperial capital and if you were coming, it was the bridge to the shōganal capital (scil; Edo).

The original Kyōbashi spanned the 京橋川 Kyōbashi-gawa Kyōbashi River. To the west was Edo Castle, in particular the so-called 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley (present day Marunouchi). To the east was Takarachō and Hatchōbori.

Kyobashi in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Total destruction, but the bridge survived and served the city well.
This picture is also after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The destruction doesn’t seem as bad as the former picture. It was taken in the same year as the disaster, but since things seem a little more back to normal, I’m going to guess that this is later that year — or straight up mislabeled — but definitely the city seems on its way to recovery.

Today, if you walk down from the starting point of the Tōkaidō in Nihonbashi to Kyōbashi station and walk all the way to the expressway, you’ve followed – more or less – the old Tōkaidō road.

In the 1870’s, a stone bridge was built. In 1922, a second wider bridge was built. It withstood the Great Kantō Earthquake like a champ and stayed there until a decade or so after WWII. In 1959 the river was filled in and the bridge disappeared. If you go to the location of the former bridge, you can view the course of the river roughly by following the 東京高速道路 Tōkyō Kōsoku Dōro Tōkyō Expressway from the Marunouchi Exit to the Kyōbashi Exit – easily done on foot. The original bridge stood in 京橋3丁目 Kyōbashi sanchōme near Kyōbashi Station.

One of the original bridge markers from the 1875 Meiji Period bridge remains as a memorial.
A single bridge marker from the Taisho Era bridge remains. The Taisho Era bridge survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and WWII. It’s final demise came with the filling in of the river in the 1950’s. That’s a bad ass stone bridge. Bad Ass!!!

Further Reading:

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